Category: Reflections


I’m in the midst of writing my essay for our first DESMA course “Perspectives on Design + Management” and yesterday I took a day trip over to Gothenburg to have a group discussion with Anna, Ariana, and Ulises. It was a long day, but I got some nice feedback on my paper and my research project in general.

I packed a lot into the paper, so there was plenty to discuss. It’s still a work in-progress — and will continue to be well after the deadline — but without going into too much depth here is the general gist of it.

1. Very broad overview of contemporary design practice: increasing descriptions of design as an approach for solving complex social problems
2. Brief history of what brought contemporary design to where it is today based on three main threads in its history: design methods movement based on structures and systems, reflective practice refocusing on creativity, and informing design by understanding people (user-centered, inclusive, participatory, etc).
3. Comparing design with experiential learning: meant to focus on the importance of learning design through experience, which makes it difficult to “package” design in the form of descriptive toolkits that are commonly published today
4. Potential for digital technology and online-networks to support experiential learning at a large scale

As you can probably tell, any of those topics alone could be a pretty extensive paper. However, I felt that it is important to touch upon each of them to support my research interest. From my discussion with the group, the pieces of my argument didn’t fit together quite right, and I will have a fair amount of tweaking to do over the next week and a half. I haven’t reviewed my notes yet, but below are some of the key points I took away from our discussion.

– I outline the paper, but I don’t clearly state my thesis, and my purpose
– Most of it is written in the third person and therefore it is hard to discern what are my words and perspective
– Need to clearly describe how and why I’m building my frame for the history of design methods
– Why experiential learning? What are its limitations?
– I don’t mention management at all.
– What’s at the core of my argument? It appears to be that I am expressing the need to explore the space for teaching design that falls between design toolkits and master-apprentice style education.
– Look at how people learn design (Bauhaus) and also how people experience design (serious play).
– Carefully consider the title of my essay
– Also, on a personal note, I need to improve the illustration I use in the paper and also describe what it shows.

Overall it was a great chance to get my thoughts down on paper. I feel like I have started to lay a foundation that I can explore and build upon over time. Previously I had felt like I was totally swimming, but now I think my toes have started to touch sand.

D! Faculty Internat 26 // Actor-Network Theory

This week I ventured down to the southern part of Sweden for my first trip to the Medea lab in Malmö and my second experience with the D! Faculty Internat series. Each Internat is built around a topic somehow related to design research, and this meeting focused on an in-depth discussion of the social philosopher Bruno Latour and his work with Actor-Network Theory. Although I was acquainted with the name ANT, this was my first real exposure to the writing and philosophy behind it. Before the Internat we were asked to read to pieces by Latour, a 2010 piece entitled An Attempt at a Compositionist Manifesto and his 2005 book Reassembling the Social. Without any experience reading Latour or much knowledge of ANT, it was challenging reading. Not only were the concepts hard to wrap my head around, but the writing never seemed to provide any clear answers. There were moments where it appeared Latour was emphasizing, or reiterating an important point, but I couldn’t quite decide if I understood or not. A few times I found myself feeling like he was presenting his ideas as if they were so obvious and clear that a child could grasp them.

Thankfully, when I arrived at the Internat I learned that I was far from alone in my experience with the readings. The three-day seminar started off with a presentation by Torben Elgaard Jensen that outlined some of the arguments that span Latour’s career. Torben’s lecture helped clarify who Latour is and what is might be trying to do. One of the most the most revelatory insights I took away from Torben was his description of the split between the natural sciences and the “social” sciences. By looking at the historical development of science, it is interesting to consider how so many theories and perspectives have kept the natural and social worlds separate. To me, it makes sense that the natural and social are indeed connected—I have learned a little about embodiment in the past—and when discussing any scientific approach, it is important to consider the “actors” and “networks” that surround it.

Following Torben’s lecture we broke up into groups to discuss the readings in relationship to our own work. Our group took some time to get acquainted with each other and our individual research projects, which later on helped us connect ANT to our own experiences. The major thing I needed to get off my chest was the concern that the process of ANT appeared to be never-ending. As I understood it, when pursuing research from an ANT perspective, Latour suggests that the researcher trace the movements of actors related to the situation. However, according to ANT, it appears that anything can be an actor. One of the members of our group is researching materials for medical equipment that needs to be both cleanable and cost-efficient. Looking at such setting through ANT, it appears the researcher would have to trace the different staff at the hospital, the patients, the company that sells the medical equipment, the company that produces the medical equipment, the type of cleaner used to clean the equipment; but also, each of those actors has relationships that could play a role, such as families, friends, education, work experience, the diet, etc. Does it stop there? Or do we keep going to the family members’ family members, or the farms where the food they eat is grown, and the farmers who grow the food, and their families? Although we didn’t quite come to a conclusion in our group on the first day, we did have a good conversation grappling with the use of ANT in our work.
On the second day we had the chance to try a method based on ANT. Using articles from the newspaper, Alex Wilkie from Goldsmiths College, led us through an exercise in controversy mapping. It was a good chance to get out of pure discussion mode and start producing something with our hands. My group chose a controversy surrounding the recent film Zero Dark Thirty. One of our first steps was to review the guidelines for the activity. After some time discussing how to tackle the process, some further guidance from Alex, we started highlighting actors specifically mentioned in the content we pulled from the newspaper. Although had all heard Alex suggest that we stick to content we could clearly identify in the article, it was impressive how quickly we started to speculate from our own experience and interpretation of the topic. Even in just a short exercise it was valuable to see how hard it can be to follow Latour’s demand to stick to description rather than explanation. However, even with our battling of the subjective, we all seemed to find something intriguing or unexpected using the method. For me, I came away thinking of the importance of “reading” a map based not only on what is there, but what is not there. Our goal was to stick to the actors explicitly mentioned in the article, but it was interesting to consider how one “actor” in our map actually represents an entire organization of actors that could be overlooked.

After a lunch break—where we ate soup and watched a dance performance next door to the Medea studio—we regrouped to finish off the mapping presentations before moving on to the PhD presentations. We heard from two PhD students that are part of the D! Faculty, Zeenath Hassan and Henrik Svarrer Larsen. Each presentation was interesting in its own right and it was valuable to hear the different topics of projects, research approaches and styles of presentations. It was a little difficult to give feedback, but I imagine part of my difficulty comes from the fact that I am still learning how to critically view and respond to PhD work. However, I did take away that whatever form my projects takes I need to make it my own and have confidence in my project.’

Post coffee break there was a panel discussion among four relatively recent PhD graduates who had dealt with ANT in some way during their work. One of my main takeaways from their discussion was their focus on making ANT useful for their projects. Rather than simply subscribing to all things ANT, it seemed that they each had a critical stance on ANT and used it for very specific purposes in their work. I appreciated hearing them discuss ANT as a tool, because until then it seemed like I needed to either subscribe to all things ANT or I would be misusing it. Although, I will say that I am still somewhat wary of the danger of using ANT as a way to justify one’s work without full knowledge of what it is. Additionally, it was interesting to hear them describe ANT as a way to support the process of design intervention in their research. It seems that one of the pitfalls in ANT could easily be too much watching and not enough action. Especially from a design perspective—action is what we do! Messing with networks is fundamental to our work and I felt that come out in the panel discussion. Another good point that was brought up in the discussion was that we should not only consider what ANT can do for design, but what design can do for ANT. One answer was a characteristic of design that continues to come up again and again: the expertise that designers have in visualizing.

Before dinner the panelists sat in with us for another round of discussions. During the conversation I presented my observation about the experience of jumping to conclusions in the controversy mapping exercise. For a short time we talked about whether or not that was a particularly “designerly” thing to do. I think I dwelled on it because it seems that people who are not designers might have approached the activity much differently. While there are certainly plenty of factors at play in a group activity, it seems possible that a bunch of PhDs in chemistry might have approached things differently. We talked for a bit about the subject and how we might manage those “aha!” moments of design in what is supposed to be the slow and methodical process of mapping all the actors in a network. I’m not sure we reached any conclusions, but for me it seems possible to go back and forth between mapping and ideating, or to keep track of insights while still maintaining focus and rigor in mapping relationships.

The final morning we reformed in our discussion groups for one last talk about critiquing Latour. For many of us, I think our question for ANT is still “but how can I use it?!” Perhaps it is somewhat ironic that in Reassembling the Social Latour writes a fictional dialogue between an ANT professor and a PhD student who expresses exactly the same sentiment. While I see potential for ANT to play an influential role in my research, at this point I see it simply as a way to keep an eye on myself. I am a little bit wary of all the theories and frameworks out there and it seems like ANT could be a good way to keep myself grounded, focused, and critical of my own research.

As a last item on the agenda, we had a short presentation from SVID on their research journal. It seems like an organization that can be a great advocate for design research in Sweden and beyond, but they are still building their publication and dissemination strategies. They are pretty new, and I hope that the research done by students in the D! Faculty can help establish the credibility and value of the SVID publication.

Overall, the week was a great introduction to Actor-Network Theory and Latour. I am quite interested in learning more, but for now I have a few takeaways that sum up my experience. On the critical side, I have some remaining questions. In the dialogue between the PhD student and the professor, the student asks when he will know when to stop. According to the professor, the student should “stop” when it is time to turn in his paper. This idea sort of makes sense to me, but it also seems possible that I could easily drive myself mad trying to follow all the actors in a network. So I guess the question is, unless I want to make a single project my life’s work, how do I know what I should follow and what I shouldn’t follow? My second question goes back to the need to go all or nothing with ANT. The way Latour presents it, it doesn’t seem like something one can do halfway. My concern here is that if I only use parts of ANT, then I am missing out on what makes it valuable and valid as an approached to research. Finally, I only thought of this after the fact, but I have questions about defining actors. It seems clear to me that all types of objects can be actors, but what happens in the digital realm? Digital actors are so dynamic I wonder if ANT can meaningfully account for them?
On the positive side, I have a few simple and practical takeaways. One, I think that ANT points to the need to be slow and thorough in research. While it may seem like an obvious point to any experienced researcher, I like how ANT seemingly forces you to slow down from the sheer quantity of work it entails. Second, it seems that ANT is inclusive of multiple types of research and tries to break down epistemological boundaries. I have more to read on this, but I appreciate the idea of bringing together research from different traditions rather than criticizing different perspectives on knowledge. And on another process note, I like how a thorough mapping activity will help me to reflect on my own perspective in relationship to other perspectives around me. In my researcher, I am an actor in my own network, and visualizing the other actors I am connected with can force me to confront the position of my work.

DESMA Course #1 // Design + Management

Last week was our first official course for the DESMA program. The title of the course was Perspectives on Design + Management (emphasis on the “+” to distinguish it from “Design Management”). Our instructors were Anna Rylander from Business & Design Lab at University of Gothenburg (and my supervisor) and Stefan Meisiek from the Copenhagen Business School. As this was only our second time meeting as an entire group, the first order of business was reintroducing each other. Following the introductions Anna and Stefan explained that they wanted to shake up the structure of the class, and start from contemporary perspectives on design and management and work backwards, addressing the background of the field of Design Management at the end of the week.

Thus, on the first day we had a presentation from Anna on the history and relevance of Pragmatism as a theoretical grounding for design and management research. While Anna went into details regarding the different contributors to the development of Pragmatism, my major takeaway from her presentation was the practical underpinnings that make Pragmatism a particularly useful way to look at design and management. As suggested by the “+” in the title of the course, Design and Management are two different perspectives and practices that have different histories and traditions of research. Although a field called Design Management has been established, it is still useful to look at the relationship between Design and Management and try to understand what it really means to combine them into something new — what they can learn from each other, and what aspects of the two fields don’t quite gel. It seems to me that Pragmatism can be a useful way to draw connections between Design and Management practices. Through Pragmatism, we can look at and gain understanding of the relationships among the physical settings, the activities, the expertise, and the experiences of people practicing in both Design and Management.

On Tuesday we had presentations from two professional design practitioners in two very different settings. First was Malin Orebäck of Veryday (my practice advisor) and second was Stina Nilimaa Wickström of Volvo Product Design. It was really interesting to see the differences in practices between a relatively small design consultancy and a large corporation. However, to some extent, both situations dealt with issues of organizational learning, albeit in very different ways.

A growing part of Veryday’s offering is their design led business innovation strategy. Many of these projects demand a great amount of user research, which can generate a large amount of visual information. While Veryday could go out, collect data, and return to their offices to analyze it, they learned that it is often more fruitful to bring a project room to their client’s offices. In the project room the team conducts interviews, posts pictures and snippets of text; they interpret the information and arrange it using a variety of methods; and, of course, they produce the sketches, maps, and diagrams that plaster the walls of design offices — all in an environment where the client can simply “pop-in”. Such a set-up challenges not only the designers to be able to discuss and explain their work on the fly, it also enables the clients to participate in the rough stages of the process that they do not historically have access to. Either way, both the design team and their clients must learn a little bit as they must interact outside their comfort zone.

At Volvo Product Design, another type of organizational learning takes place. In Stina’s description of her work she emphasized the size and structure of the Volvo corporation. In her case, she has a department that has been an integral part of the product of vehicles for a long time. However, a changing attitude toward design practice and the understanding of what design can offer a company (creativity, innovations, adaptation, customer empathy*) do not always align with the attitude and structure of a large corporation like Volvo. Therefore Stina and her team engage a different type of organizational learning that is internal and at a very large scale. Indeed, designers inside Volvo may be viewed very differently than designers at Veryday, even though their everyday design practices share many traits in common. We spent the afternoon following the two presentations trying to write research questions that would be interesting and useful to professional practitioners.

Wednesday focused on a different approach to writing research questions. Rather than constructing questions based on professional practice, we discussed how to develop questions from theory. It was a challenging day for many of us who are still trying to wrap our heads around different philosophies of knowledge. Stefan presented three different epistemologies for us to consider: neo-positivism, symbolism, and post-modernism. Each epistemology carries with it important implications for how we choose / construct methods, analyze results, and interpret our findings. Our discussion revolved around a selection of readings from three topics: design thinking, materiality, and sense-making. Although we didn’t quite achieve the goal of constructing our own questions based on theories, I think many of us came a step closer to understanding them through some good discussions. One such discussion revolved around the readings on materiality. There were three readings on materiality and different types of “objects”. The articles themselves seemed clear as I read them, but as soon as I tried to explain my understanding to someone else it got complicated extremely quickly. However, when we came together as a large group with the guidance of Stefan and Anna we were able to see how each of the articles took a theory and built off of it. It was a good lesson, and I look forward to attempting to identify threads of theories and epistemological stances in future readings. Although, I will also say that many of us were also a little wary of getting too sucked into a world of theory. There seems to be a strong desire to keep things connected to everyday practice — a hope that we can make our work understandable and useable by people outside of academia.

Thursday was a chance for us hear a little bit about the history of the field of Design Management. Our first lecture, from Lisbeth Lisbeth Svengren Holm of the University of Borås gave an overview of design and management from the start of the Industrial Revolution to today. For me, a main takeaway from Lisbeth’s lecture was the split between design and management that occurred with the mechanization of production. Throughout most of the 20th century the two practices moved further and further apart, with only occasional instances where the two aligned, often through designers gaining a central role in organizational decision-making (e.g. Braun and Apple). These examples highlight the potential for design to be a fundamental aspect of organizations rather than a styling exercise sandwiched between specifications and production. In the afternoon we heard from Ulla Johansson and Jill Woodilla on the concept of Design Thinking. Ulla and Jill presented the progression of mentions of “design thinking” in academic and popular literature for the past two decades. It was impressive to see the spike in references to “design thinking” that occurred in the 2000s. One of my favorite insights of their findings was in the distinction between design thinking mentioned in design literature compared to design thinking mentioned in management literature. I see their work as an important step in clarifying what we mean by terms and concepts found in design and management.

On our last day of the course, we had the opportunity to sit in on a “final seminar” for Marcus Jahnke, a doctoral student at HDK. Stefan served as an “opponent”, although he was more conversational than antagonistic, and the two sat in front of an audience of close to fifty. It was interesting and valuable to hear Marcus talk about his work. Particularly, I began imagining myself in his situation. The content of the week started to come together, and although I won’t be volunteering to give any lectures on epistemology any time soon, I felt like I could see how he had deliberately chosen theories to support his perspective and work. It was also a good chance to reflect on my perspective, and how I hope to justify it in the future. Overall, I still have some things to sort out as far as epistemology is concerned, but I feel like I have taken a baby step in understanding theories and how they will impact my research efforts. To wrap up the week we had a discussion about what we learned and how we hoped to move forward the essays we will write for the course. A common theme amongst the group was to connect what we learned back to our own work. I think this reflects the desire for many of us to stay rooted in professional practice. On my way home I took some time to reflect on the course, and I think I will have plenty of interesting points to discuss in the essay.

In addition to the content of the course, the week was also an opportunity for us to grow together as a group. We shared challenges and perspectives from our various disciplines, and while I always wish there was more time to have one-on-one discussions with everyone, I felt like we all received a lot of good feedback on our work so far. We also had a chance to discuss the DESMA platform, which we are still developing. The primary decision coming out of the week was that whatever platform we use, we need to be active sharing knowledge and information. For now, we will focus on Facebook as the primary mode of communication as we continue to develop a prototype to support external communication. On that note, I will say that I look forward to seeing everyone again in March, and hope to have plenty of work to present for critique and feedback.

***For me these are still question marks because I’m still working on describing this clearly and effectively. How can state this in a way that doesn’t sound fluffy?!)

Daily Reflection 21: Research Question Draft 1

Almost two weeks ago I presented my first attempt at a research question to my supervisors. Since that time I have made little progress on delving further into the question, as some other items of business have taken up a good chunk of my time. So this post will attempt to summarize some of my recent activities, starting with the question I proposed not too long ago. To start, here is the question as it currently stands:

How can externalization and representation support sensemaking in collaborative problem framing methods of design?

My question relates directly to a statement by design author John Kolko in his book Exposing the Magic of Design (2011): “Sensemaking and framing can be enhanced and supported through externalization and through representations” (pg 15). Although Kolko describes examples of professional practice to support this claim, he doesn’t reference specific studies regarding the phenomena. Inspired by the growing trend of design practice with a social agenda, I have started questioning the role the of the designer as a gatekeeper to methods for managing complexity, identifying opportunities, and driving innovation. My hope is that gaining insight into the practice of design methods will lead to better approaches for managing their “magical” qualities to engage wicked problems.

The feedback I have received is that this is a decent starting point, but it lacks specificity and definition, which will be influenced by the epistemological stance I take in my research. For instance, the language I currently use — “externalization”,”sensemaking”, etc. — will have very different meanings based on how I view knowledge of the world. Additionally, I was encouraged to be more concrete when I discuss “collaborative problem framing methods”. Describing a specific activity or aspect of collaboration or problem framing should help both my reading and my research.

In addition to the feedback I received on my question, I had another chance to reflect on my stance during a Design Faculty seminar on “Theories of Practical Knowing” at Gothenburg University last Friday. Two lectures in particular pushed me to think critically about my research. The first lecture came from my advisor Anna Rylander, and focused on the classical pragmatists: Peirce, James, Dewey, and Mead. Although the lecture covered a range of topics within pragmatism, for me the biggest question that emerged was in regards to imagination. It seems that imagination plays an important role in pragmatist inquiry, a process that takes place in both what we consider “art” and “science” practices. As Anna finished her presentation, I was left wondering exactly what imagination is, how it might be studied, and how it relates to design methods. In our discussion after the lectures, I posed my question to the group and was met with some promising leads to theories of imagination. Yet, in the spirit of the course, the answer seemed to come from a very philosophical perspective. The tone was striking enough that I began wondering what other perspectives, research, and theories exist regarding imagination.

Therefore, over the past couple of days, I have looked into some research in neuroscience about imagination and creativity. While I am only briefly acquainted with the research done into the processes of the brain that relate to creativity, it is something that I feel obligated to address. If design methods have a strong connection to creativity and imagination, it seems important to consider different approaches to understanding what they are and how they work. So far I am quite intrigued by the relationship between brain functions and our experience with the world. In particular, I came across the work of V.S. Ramachandran, a neuroscientist who has studied brain function by conducting experiments with people who have suffered brain injuries. According to work conducted by Ramachandran, brain injuries highlight how physical structures of the brain impact our perception of the world. Understanding how different brain structures influence interactions (e.g. people engaging in design methods), could have important implications for my work but also design research. I’m still getting a grip on the epistemological stance issue, but it seems I should not overlook these experiments in neuroscience during my research into collaboration and sensemaking.

Daily Reflection 20: Wicked Problems

Today I focused primarily on the history of Wicked Problems. I have been familiar with the concept of wicked problems for some time, but I had never thoroughly read the articles that describe it. The two articles I focused on today were Dilemmas in the General Theory of Planning by Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber and Wicked Problems in Design Thinking by Richard Buchanan. Rittel and Webber describe the problems that social professions (e.g. planners, designers, educators) deal with as “wicked” because they cannot be defined in neat little packages for planners (I’ll just use “designers” from now on) to solve. The core of the issue seems to be interrelationships. First of all, every designer is unique and therefore every design solution uniquely based on the particular way that designer approached and defined the problem. Additionally, because design always involves people, their interactions, perceptions, judgements of and solution are variable and diverse. Writing in 1973, Rittel and Webber describe the pluralism that has disrupted any notion of a perfectly designed society displayed by the civil upheaval of the 1960s. In their essay the authors provide a list of ten characteristics of Wicked Problems, ultimately painting an imposing picture for design practice.

Buchanan takes the concept of Wicked Problems one step further by offering a description of why problems are wicked. He starts his essay by positioning design practice using the writing of John Dewey on experience. I was a little unclear on this point, but it seems that Buchanan is defining design as intentional “experimental thinking”. I got the impression that according to Buchanan, design is an activity that scientists and artists do at various times, but that designers have made a profession out of. Buchanan also points out the act of “placement” in design. The term appears to be pulled from rhetoric and refers to the way designers construct a placement for each design that may relate to subjects in the sciences and/or the humanities. Design is therefore neither a complete integration of arts and sciences, nor does it fall under either category, but shifts around based on the design situation. Building on the ten characteristics of Wicked Problems from Rittel and Webber, Buchanan states that design problems are wicked because they are “indeterminate”. However, he points out that no one has been able to articulate why they are indeterminate. Buchanan’s proposal for why design problems are indeterminate is that there is no definitive subject matter to design. Again, going back to the unique situation of every design problem, the subject matter for design is always constructed based on the particular context in which it resides. While the designer brings “general” subject matter based on experience, the designer also assembles “particular” subject matter unique to each problem.

While these are only a starting point for describing Wicked Problems, both articles have had a strong influence on the development of contemporary design practice, education, and research. I am glad that I have taken the time to read these articles because my definition of design will have a major influence on how I conduct, present, and ultimately defend my research. Thankfully these articles seem in-line with pragmatist philosophy, which I think will be useful in grounding my research in theories that are relevant to design practice as well as other disciplines (education, management, etc.)

Rittel, H. & M. Webber (1973) Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning. ‘Public Sciences’ 4, 155–169. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
Buchanan, Richard (1992) Wicked Problems in Design Thinking, ‘Design Issues’, vol. 8, no. 2, Spring 1992

Daily Reflection 19: Rough Research Question

A main takeaway from Monday’s supervisory meeting was that I needed a research question. I’ve spent the last two days writing questions that try to nail down what is floating around in my head. Some are very broad and very vague, but I hope that others start getting at something more specific. Below is a list of my first stabs at writing questions. However, I have one brief reflection before I write them out. Previously I have considered my focus to be on the difference between “non-designers” and “designers” but I am considering revising my perspective — while maintaining an orientation toward enabling design practice outside the field of design. Today I began acquainting myself with the concept of sense-making by gathering some readings by Brenda Dervin — which seem quite relevant to the way people interact while using design methods — and watching a short lecture (see end of post) she gave at Eastern Washington University. In her lecture she described how often researchers “divide users into boxes” in their studies. She then presented a long list of ways to divide people: demography, capabilities, person traits, cognitive / emotional styles, lifestyles, domains, tasks, channel, institutional context. The question is how much good does it do to research this way? Dervin suggests sense-making methodology presents a way to focus on communication among people rather than the boxes in which they are placed. I gravitate towards Dervin’s message due to its foundation in communication, a theme that seems of central importance to action in design methods. So I have begun questioning the use of distinguishing between designers and non-designers. Indeed, I have often expressed that everyone is a “designer” in some sense. Altering my terminology will influence how I craft my question, changing the focus to what is happening in the methods rather than who is acting. I am a little unsure how I feel about this, but we’ll see where it takes me.

So here is the unedited list of questions I have been working with. The questions are written in chronological order, many still include the designer/non-designer language. Some are pretty informal, but hopefully it is interesting to see the whole process.

How do people learn through externalization?

How does externalization influence learning?

How does externalization influence learning in groups?

How does externalization influence learning in groups of non-designers?

What influence do different types of externalization have on communication in group inquiry?

What influence does the structure of a design method have on the collaborative inquiry of non-designers?

How does the structure of a design method influence individual learning in collaborative group inquiry?

How does externalization affect collaborative group inquiry among non-designers?

How does externalization affect individual learning in groups of non-designers working in the design process?

What role does externalization play in the identification of design opportunities by non-designers?

How does the act of externalization affect the identification of design opportunities by a group?

What aspects of design methods are the most challenging for non-designers?

What influence does the materiality of tools have on the interactions of a group of non-designers in framing a problem?

How does the act of externalization affect group framing?

When groups of people outside the field of design are defining a problem, what tools / strategies do they use for framing.

What are situations where groups of nn-designers need to plan strategically?

What is the difference between designers and non-designers in identifying opportunities for design?

What aspects of design methods make them relevant to groups outside of design?

What can methods for design synthesis contribute to groups of non-designers?

What aspects of design synthesis contribute to group framing?

What aspects of methods for design synthesis contribute to group sense-making?
– What influence does the act of externalization have on communication in groups?
– What factors contribute to group framing in methods of design synthesis?
– What role do physical artifacts play in actions of design synthesis?

In another approach, I had a very simple question after perusing some writing of Jon Kolko. In his book, Exposing the Magic of Design, he describes the methods designers use for design synthesis. He talks briefly about how design methods engage sense-making: “Sensemaking and framing can be enhanced and supported through externalization and through representations” (p. 15) While Kolko goes on to provide some compelling examples of design methods in practice that support this claim, at first glance I didn’t see him reference any specific research studies. So the question I left off with for today is:

Do externalization and representation enhance and support sensemaking and framing?

And here is the video from Brenda Dervin

Daily Reflection 18: More Feedback Meetings

I had another chance today to meet with some colleagues at Ergonomidesign. The meetings supported my interest in structures and process for the development and implementation of design methods, and reinforced the benefit of my connection to a professional design consultancy. First I met with Diana Africano Clark, an experienced design research and interaction designer who has worked extensively with co-creation and co-design in the front of design projects. During our discussion Diana mentioned the import role of “designing research” in the design process. When clients propose a project, they often have a specific perspective on what they want research to reveal and present that perspective to the researchers. In such a case, design researchers such as Diana often have to reframe the way the client sees the project. The narrow vision of the client may focus on only one aspect of a much more holistic issue.

For instance, targeting one family member in a journey or product that involves the entire family leaves out crucial information about responsibilities and perceptions that have a profound impact on the development of a product or service. Diana and other design researchers seem to find themselves negotiating for their place in the design process. This concept goes back to the importance of “problem framing” and how research plays a part in how a team approaches a problem. I showed Diana a really simple sketch I have been playing with as a way to explain where I want to focus my research. Designers often refer to the role research plays in the “fuzzy front end” of the design process, a place where design methods help reveal the behaviors, needs, wants, and dreams of people. The research in the fuzzy front end then informs the development of a new product or service. However, there has to be a prompt that initiates the design process. My question has been, is there a process to arrive at the prompt that initiates the design process? And if there is, what are the methods, structures, and resources to support it? My little sketch tries to articulate that there is a fuzzy front end of the process for choosing choosing the research and establishing the vision that leads to the design process. After a moment of reflection, this also aligns with my limited experience in writing research proposals.

Additionally we discussed the actual practice of design methods. Recently I have been describing my focus on the visual aspects of design methods and not necessarily the performance of them. However, in speaking with Diana, I realized that regardless whether someone is roleplaying or acting our an experience, or sorting images on a table, performance is a part of the activity. This also brings back the role of the person facilitating the performance. Whether or not it is the designer, in design methods it seems that part of the value may lie in how people perform an action in front of others. Externalization then, does not simply describe the final artifact of a given method, but also in the production and explanation of that artifact. I also had a productive meeting with another design research / design strategist, Marcus Gabrielsson, but I will post more on our discussion at a later date.